Back in 1974 the Baltimore Colts drafted defensive ends John Dutton in the first round and Fred Cook in the second. They had drafted tackles Joe Ehrmann and Mike Barnes the previous year. And that's how one of the best young defensive line in the National Football League was born.
They bumped into each other a lot at first. They were even "down right funny at times," Dutton admitted today.
That young and inexperienced line of Dutton from Nebraska, Cook from Southern Mississippi, Ehrmann from Syracuse and Barnes from Miami, Fla., took its lumps as the Colts lost four of their first five games in 1975, making it an unimpressive 22 losses in 27 games over parts of three seasons.
Then he laughing stopped.The offense came together behind new coach Ted Marchibroada and quarterback Bert Jones, and the front four carried the defense. The Colts won their last nine games in 1975 and have won 26 of their 30 regular-season games, including six of seven this season.
A major reason is that no one pushes the Colts front four around.
"None of us is a real individual star," said the 6-foot-7, 268-pound Dutton. "But we complement each other so well. We've been together for three seasons now and we've grown together.
"We aren't stars in the public's eye like some of the other front four you hear so much about, but we know we are as good or better than they are. What makes us the way is our consistency. We aren't just a one-year flash."
More than once, however, the Colts have had to call on Ron Fernandes, a more than capable relief man for all four starters. Fernandes was signed as a free agent last season.
Dutton missed training camp and the first three tames as a contract holdout this year. Fernandes filled in for him ably.
The Ehrmann broke his left hand and hasn't played the last five games. He is hoping to come back Monday night against the Washington Redskins at Memorial Stadium.
"It's up in the air right now if I play or not," Ehrmann said. "This not playing is starting to get to me."
The defensive line has wide range. Its members make tackles all over the field. The mistakes, when they are made, aren't as noticeable as they are with some teams, because each player recovers so well.
The Redskins, in contrast, aren't nearly as mobile in the defensive line and rely on being in the right defenses and outthinking an opponent to offset that disability. It doesn't always work.
Few defensive lineman are as quick as Barnes or Cook, and what Ehrmann and Dutton lack in quickness they make up for in strength.
Fernandes is an ideal backup for all - quick enough to be a good pass rusher and strong enough to halt the run.
Dutton, who led the Colts with 13 quarterback sacks last year, has yet to get one this season.
"I feel I haven't come close to where I was last year," he said, "but I'm getting there, and with Joe coming back, we should peak at just about the right time."
Cook and Fernandes each have four sacks. Barnes and Ehrmann have two each.
The sacks are down from last year, but the Colt defense has produced 22 more turnovers than its offense has committed. Included in that total are 17 pass interceptions, two more than the Colts had last season.
"That shows that we're at least bothering people even when we aren't sacking them," Dutton said.
"I don't want to take anything away from quarterbacks or linebackers or anybody because they are all important, but the heat is always on the offensive and defensive lines," Dutton continued.
"It's right down there where the games are won. We feel we have the advantage over every offensive line we play.
"Each gap works hard at getting his job done, and then he goes and helps the other guy. That's the way we do things here."